Django Unchained

PhotobucketDjango Unchained is Quentin Tarantino’s full bodied and bloody take on the spaghetti western with a little 70’s era blaxploitation thrown in. Taking place in the pre-Civil War South, the plot concerns a freed slave who takes revenge on a plantation owner in order to rescue his wife. Our story begins with Dr. King Schultz, a former dentist. He’s now a bounty hunter seeking the Brittle brothers, dangerous outlaws with a price on their heads. Since Django is the only one who can identify the perpetrators, he buys Django, essentially freeing him, and the two set off to find them.

Jaime Foxx is all seething rage with a perpetual scowl across his face as he matures from helpless slave to an avenging superhero. He’s the obvious star but the supporting cast is nothing less than perfection. The movie is stolen by a trio of actors that command attention in every scene they’re in. Christoph Waltz displays a gentle charm as the enlightened German bounty hunter that is both sympathetic and fearsome. Leonardo DiCaprio is the central villain, a hissable plantation owner named Calvin Candie. He’s guilty of a whole slew of offenses, not the least of which includes pitting slaves against each other for gladiator-like competitions to the death. But he spits his declarations with a smooth southern drawl that would just as likely offer his guests a Mint Julep. It’s a spellbinding performance, one that establishes a demented personality. Possibly even more unsettling is Samuel L Jackson as house slave Stephen, obediently loyal to Calvin’s desires but vile and ill-tempered to everyone else. It’s a villain that might trump DiCaprio’s hateful character for selling out his fellow man. He’s respectful to Calvin, but lords it over the rest of the house as an intense individual to be feared. It’s a portrayal of a slave unlike any I’ve ever seen.

Tarantino has an ear for conversation and his comedic instincts are razor sharp. The opening scene in which Dr. King Schultz buys Django from the Speck brothers is a brilliant start. Schultz’s educated manner when contrasted to the more unsophisticated personalities of the Specks makes for a rather lighthearted negotiation in the midst of tense circumstances. Later a scene in which proto-KKK members complain about the poorly cut eye-holes in their white masks is a model of hilarious writing. No wonder it tied at the St. Louis Film Critics Association for Best Scene of the year. And let’s not forget the assertions of Calvin Candie. Once Leonardo DiCaprio turns the tables on our heroes, he offers his misinformed thoughts regarding cranial anatomy. His frightening and pseudo-intellectual ideas are so shockingly bizarre, you are compelled to listen.

It’s Tarantino, so of course we’re going to get anachronistic style choices. But there are some seriously questionable music selections going on. It’s all over the place. Since Django Unchained is inspired in part by Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 Italian Western Django, it makes perfect sense he would appropriate Luis Enrique Bacalov’s theme song over the opening credits. Even Jim Croce’s ‘I Got a Name’ has enough country western flair to sound germane to the time period, but rapper Rick Ross’ ‘100 Black Coffins’ is painfully out of place. It takes you completely out of the mid 1800’s and into 2012. Ditto the mashup of James Brown’s ‘The Payback’ and Tupac Shakur’s ‘Untouchable’ called ‘Unchained‘. It’s a rousing rap blast, but it doesn’t’ do the picture any favors.

Like Tarantino’s earlier revisionist history flick Inglourious Basterds was to Nazis, Django Unchained offers a generous helping of comeuppance to slaveholders and their kin. But this isn’t as inventive as that film. Don’t get me wrong. Django is good. It’s filled with great dialogue. And it’s acted to the hilt by the entire cast with Waltz, DiCaprio, and Jackson mesmerizing in their parts, any of which, are worthy of an Academy Award. But the nearly 3 hour running time really meanders. One might argue that this revenge fantasy doesn’t really get started until well past the halfway point where the real purpose of rescuing Django’s wife Broomhilda becomes the goal. Then the whole production climaxes in the most mundane way possible: a shootout. As Django delivers restitution to each baddie, their bodies shot through with holes, blood literally gushing out like fountains. It’s supposed to be visceral. Lighten up, right? It’s a cartoon! But it’s pretty disturbing too and I don’t care how desensitized to violence you are, if you aren’t at least a little disgusted, you might see a doctor for sociopathic tendencies. But even more problematic, it feels like a cheat – a simplistic shortcut in lieu of a more creative ending that would match the subversiveness of everything that lead up to that moment. Make no mistake, Django Unchained is really entertaining. It just could’ve been so much more.

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37 Responses to “Django Unchained”

  1. I agree that it’s flawed, and your point about the music is spot on. I expect perfection from Tarantino, and this falls short. I’ll own it because it still contains a lot of good stuff, but some is weaker than his normal fare.

  2. Completely disagree about the music.

    (and point of order, it wasn’t the KKK, as the group did not exist yet. Just racist idiots in masks)

  3. Really cool site and I agree with you that the conversations these actors have are quite magnificant. I never found the use of music to be out of place. Hearing 2Pac durring that gun battle was sweet and it got me pumped. I never thought of this as being historically accurate so I didn’t mind the changes

    • I totally understand your point. It’s not meant to be historically accurate. I guess certain selections felt more mismatched to me than others. Speaking from my own POV, it took me out of the story.

  4. My parents told me they’d let me start on Quentin Tarantino when I’m 16. So basically, Django Unchained IS on my list, with a ten-month delay haha. Having read your review, it’s also another addition to my mental birthday list, alongside Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds, and (of course) Pulp Fiction. The one thing I can’t stand about my youth is not having a chance to see a Tarantino film, particularly when a new release is in the air.

    Anyway, great review.

  5. Great review Mark, I think I must agree on all of it. I will be surprised if Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t win, let alone get nominated for an Oscar. I heard that the scene where Leo breaks the glass & his hand is bleeding, was real. Leo just kept going & Quentin used the shot. Of course. I did really enjoy the film, but it wasn’t his best. Next time?!

  6. Nice review. I’m a big Tarantino fan, and I should see this one soon.

  7. Good review Mark. Maybe I’m a bit too biased because I just love everything about Tarantino and all that he does, but I had a freakin’ ball with this movie, especially when they feature, my man, Leo DiCap, in one of his best roles in recent history. If he doesn’t win, I’ll be pissed, if he doesn’t even get nominated, all hell will be breaking loose from my POV. I kid you not.

    • I agree with you about Leonardo DiCaprio. He’s actually one of my favorite actors of all time. You and I will protest for a re-count if he doesn’t at least get nominated.

  8. Great review Mark. I loved this movie because I’m a diehard Tarantino fan but I can see why people have problems with it. That mask scene just had me in tears and I was still laughing once that scene had ended. Anyway, hope 2012 was good to you and hope 2013 will be good for you as well!

    • Tarantino’s talent for writing interesting conversations is what I appreciate most. The dialogue just zings. I assume this will get nominated for Best Picture but in my opinion it’s lesser Tarantino.

      Have a Happy and Peaceful 2013!!

  9. First I want to say that Christoph Waltz and Leo need to be nominated for Academy Awards. Both were awesome. I did not like some of the music choices. I liked the comedy relief, especially Samuel L. Jackson and the mask scene. Overall it was enjoyable, but kinda long. 3 1/2 stars.

    • I’d say even Samuel L Jackson is worth of a nomination but 3 people from one movie is not going to happen so I strongly feel that at least DiCaprio better get one.

      Speaking of comedy relief, dig that powder blue Little Lord Fauntleroy suit Jaime Foxx wore in one scene.

      –“Didn’t you hear what he said? I’m a free man.”

      –“And you choose to dress like that?”

  10. Like you said, it’s good, but not great. Certainly not my favorite Tarantino film, and not as enjoyable as Inglourious Basterds in my opinion. Agreed on several points Mark. Fantastic performances in this film from Waltz, DiCaprio, and Jackson. But you’re right, the music choice is all kinds of wacky and one of my least favorite in his films. Jim Croce’s “I’ve Got a Name” is the worst offense, especially since he basically plays like the whole song. Overall the film is way too long and meandering. Had Tarantino constructed a tighter arc to the final conflict and actually ended the film shortly after the Mexican standoff, it would have been much stronger.

    • You know it’s funny because I’m not being consistent about something. I LOVED Inglourious Basterds and I even loved hearing “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” in the film, yet that song is completely ridiculous within context of the film. Oh well. Film is an emotional journey and some trips affect you differently than others.

  11. Great review, Mark 🙂 Really looking forward to QT’s latest. Opens around here on Jan. 18!

  12. Great review, I really need to see this.

  13. I saw Pulp Fiction this weekend. Instantly ordered it on BluRay. So much fun. I’m dying to see Django now.

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